AUSTIN Ė Hundreds of miles of dirt, caliche, crushed granite and paved bike trails wind through Texas State Parks, offering both easy and challenging rides in safe and scenic environments. February is a great time to join a scheduled ride, tackle an ambitious biking event, or better yet, take an unguided cruise on your own schedule with your family and friends.

Last year, dozens of miles of new bike-friendly trails were added to an already extensive state park trail system in such places as McKinney Falls State Park in Austin and Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon. Near Gonzales, Palmetto State Park has added roughly two miles of trails, featuring bridges and boardwalks, to its existing three miles of trails.

To find out skill ratings and trail descriptions, you can visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Departmentís Biking activity page. Cyclists also can check out a video roundup of what itís like to bike in a variety of state park settings, including this featured video from Brazos Bend State Park.

Trail levels range from easy, such as Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Parkís flat and paved park roads in Mission to the most challenging tracks ó hilly, twisting, rocky mountain trails found at places like El Pasoís Franklin Mountains State Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park near Presidio.

February brings guided and competitive biking events to several state parks.

Stephen F. Austin State Park in San Felipe, 30 minutes from the western outskirts of Houston, will host a guided mountain biking tour every Saturday in February. Bring your mountain bike or rent one from the park for a moderately challenging ride. A helmet and some experience with off-road biking are necessary. Each tour is limited to 15 riders, so call (979) 885-3613 to reserve a spot.

On Feb. 9-10, cyclists will gather in at Cedar Hill State Park in north Texas for a two-day bike event. The second annual Cedar Hill Bike Fest benefits the Texas High School Cycling League. The festival, which is open to all ages and skill levels, will include a mountain bike race, two road races, a cyclocross race and a hill climb time trial. For more information, contact the state park at (972) 291-3100, extension 231.

For the third consecutive year, cyclists from across the state will gather Feb. 14-16 for three days of rides in Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park, and on the Lajitas trail system in far west Texas. The Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest headquarters will be at the Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa, which will offer camping and social activities, including swimming, hula-hooping, live music, and the Austin Bike Zoo. Visit the Desert Sports website to pre-register and find out more.

Although most of Bike Festís rides are geared for advanced mountain bike enthusiasts, the park also offers shorter, ranger-led bike tours of 10-11 miles for strong beginner and low-intermediate level bikers who have the conditioning to ride 11 miles of relatively flat terrain. A kidís ride is also scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

Highlighting the eventís agenda again will be the signature, 58-mile EPIC ride (as designated by the International Mountain Biking Association) scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 16, onto which bikers can elect to extend an additional 12 miles (covering 70 miles total). Thereís also a two-day EPIC ride option, with an overnight stay and meals at Big Bend Ranch State Parkís Sauceda bunkhouse.

Park rangers suggest these destinations for a sampler of biking trails across the state:

West Texas - Franklin Mountains, Big Bend Ranch Gulf Coast - Mustang Island, Brazos Bend Hill Country - Government Canyon, Colorado Bend Panhandle Plains - Caprock Canyons & Trailway, Fort Richardson Ė Lost Creek Reservoir Trailway Prairies and Lakes- Cedar Hill, Tyler, Lake Somerville